After a frought week due to having a sick husband, children who needed entertaining, work and preparing for Mother In Law to visit – which of course entails making the house look beautifully tidy and pretending we live that way all the time instead of the shitpit we actually live in – I almost, almost, cancelled. “I don’t have the time” I said. “I have too much to do” I made excuses. They were all true. But also, my back pain has been under control for a few weeks, and so, well it’s not a disability any more is it? I can walk relatively normally – apart from apparently I still limp a little, have a slightly odd gait, but can’t notice myself – and so I am taking up a valuable space that other’s can use. But, none of that’s true is it? I had to remind myself that if I didn’t do this, I would relapse at some point and be devastated that I have not moved myself forward. I HAVE to recognise that a month at most without pain so bad it makes me cry does not constitute a cure.
And so I went. At 9:30am on the dot. Without my paperwork as I lost it and having confirmed so late in the day I was not sure if I was expected. I was not expected. There was no course at 9:30am. Or 10am. It was at 2pm! I just laughed it off as typical of my chaotic and unorganized week.
I went to Session One of the Expert Patients Programme with probably far less trepidation than most of the other participants as I am used to being on the other side of the desks. I could feel the fear in the room from some when there was the prospect of talking, and I could sense the keenness of others to have people listen to their conditions, to hear what they have been experiencing, and later found that some of those people hardly see anyone socially due to their conditions making them housebound.
The Expert Patients Programme is, I have learned, an accredited programme which is run across the world, and was developed as the Chronic Disease Self Management Programme at Stanford University, California, who now hold the licence which allow it to be run, and is facilitated the same way throughout the country. I like that, as it gives focus and structure to the group, where it can be possible to run away with talking about our ailments for 2.5 hours, it hones us in on the purpose of the sessions, to learn the skills to be expert managers in our own health. Now, some people prefer to have free-flowing groups, but I guess that is where my own experiences of facilitation come in. Where it originates and how it developed interests me so sorry if you have glazed over.
Any fears or anxieties were immediately quashed at the sight of the full Tupperware container full of Bourbon Biscuits. Now I am a great fan of Posh Biscuits, but there is nothing better than bourbons. I felt at ease.
I won’t bore you with the full details of the first session, and of course we all entered into agreements of confidentiality so I shan’t divulge details of the participants, but, my over-riding feeling initially was that I was somehow a fraud, that my condition did not warrant me being there. There were participants there who have to suffer with multiple conditions at once, some as a consequence of other conditions, some with multiple un-connected ailments and my life felt like a breeze – I have periods of wellness, I can still socialise (although I do that less and less), I am managing to hang on to my job. But, I had to once again remind myself that this was a Good Day. And on a Bad Day I would possibly not even be there. Re-enforcing that was the fact that not one person saw my condition as minor and lots of what I shared with the group about the challenges I face as a result of my condition were equally shared with other group members and I realised that it was not about who had the most serious condition to contend with, there was no competition in the room – we were all there as we all had a condition or more than one that affected our lives to the point of disability and we were all there to find ways to manage. We were all in this together and the group gelled quickly as this became clear.
We all shared some of our personal challenges as a result of our condition, as much as we felt comfortable doing so, and it became clear that, despite the individual challenges that were unique to us alone, there were common ones that affected ALL of us in the room – I expected pain to be a shared challenge, and it was, and mobility for a large group of people, again it was, and not being able to do the things we used to be able to do, but I was quite surprised that fatigue came up time and time again. Every Single Person in the room struggled with fatigue as a result of the differing reasons for bringing us into that room together and it helped me a lot to realise that the continuous and horrendous and often debilitating tiredness I experience now is not unique to me, does not mean something more sinister is wrong, but goes hand in hand with chronic illness. And, as a result some of the course is designated to managing fatigue as it is recognised as a symptom of chronic illness.
The other challenge that we all faced, despite our wide ranging disabilities that have brought us to the same place, was that we are all struggling to come to terms with our conditions, with accepting that our lives have changed forever and that we won’t wake up tomorrow with a magic cure – it won’t go back to how it was before and no-one in the room had fully grasped that yet but we have already all made big life-altering changes and today was the start of another big change – acceptance.
And all 12 of us in the room had taken a huge step in acceptance by coming to this first session. Even if I don’t find the strategies for coping new to me, just consolidating what I know, I have already come a little bit closer to accepting I have a disability by attending this first session.
Although, I am feeling so much better, it might have all been a misdiagnosis and I am on the mend right…?